Tuesday, 24 December 2013

My Poor Plum Tree

I'm back! Work days are behind me again and I now have time to garden and blog again!

Last week's storm brought down our plum tree! Disaster for us ....no more plum jam .... but the pheasants seem to approve.  The main trunk broke in half so the top branches are forming a sort of cage over part of the lawn.  The pheasants obviously feel very safe snoozing inside its protection and pop out to feed every so often.  We had 13 of them wandering round the lawn the other morning ... only 7 today.  We have decided to leave the broken tree exactly where it is until the spring brings warmer weather.

The smaller birds seem to like it too - I was drinking my early morning tea and watching blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, blackbirds, dunnocks, sparrows, collard doves and the robin swooping about like confetti and all using the plum tree to hide in.

It was a very old plum tree - we were told it was as old as the house and that was built in 1865 ... don't know how true that is but it was a very large and fruitful specimen.  Bit sad really ..but on the other hand it has given me an area of garden that now needs to be completely redesigned this Spring!

Merry Christmas Everyone and a Blooming Great New Year!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

GBBD September 2013

As I walked into the kitchen early one morning a few days ago I spotted a sparrowhawk sitting on the garden fence waiting for breakfast to fly by.  It saw me and flew off to the safety of the neighbour's roof so I grabbed the camera.  It was obviously wary of me as I zoomed in.  A pair of magpies didn't appreciate its company though and soon chased it off.  I love seeing hawks.  We were especially priviledged last week:

I was in the living room reading but there was a particularly noisy buzzard outside.  When I looked it was over the field right outside the house so I shouted Andy and went out for a better view.  Suddenly a small hawk began to mob it ... a peregrine.  Brilliant!  They stayed in view circling each other for quite a few minutes and we were just thinking how luck we had been to see the peregrine when another large bird sailed into view ... an osprey!! Fantastic! I didn't grab the camera so I can't share it with you.  Sorry!

The garden is full of yellow marigolds this week. 

The cornflowers and verbena add touches of blue and the apples, roses, berries and snapdragons throw in the reds.

I've spent HOURS peeling, coring and cooking apples: the composter is full of damaged fruit and there's still half a tree-full left ... shouldn't complain though!

I'm particularly pleased with the front pond at the moment.  The water lilies have gone wild since I worked on that area a few months ago.  I will need a machette to get through the leaves soon!

This is what it looked like at the end of June:

The other major change to the garden this month is the new greenhouse:

We haven't got round to ordering the staging yet but there's no rush.  As you can see from the blanket the cat has moved in already.  She finds it very confusing as the glass is so clean she keeps trying to walk through it!  Nothing to worry about, it won't stay like that for long.

Visit May Dream Gardens for more GBBD views.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Ten Green Apples

"Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year.  The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple...” 
J K Rowling Deathly Hallows

The trees are weighed down with apples, pears and plums and the wasps are getting drunk and drowsy.  Time to harvest.
Last year I collected the fruit, made a few pots of jam and bagged the rest for the freezer.
This year I decided to be a bit more inventive so I turned to fellow bloggers for inpiration:


1.  Apple Chutney from Rachel Cotterill.  This looks simple and delicious.  It made me look around the internet for other chutney recipes and I'm now hooked on the idea.  I really fancy one with apples, carrots and onions ... sounds a bit like Branston Pickle though!  In searching round I came across a blog called A Foodie's Quest who had a green tomato relish recipe which might come in useful for Elaine at A Woman of the Soil!

2.  Stuffed Apples.  I imagined baked apples stuffed with raisins when I thought of this one but you can stuff them with all sorts of things apparently ... stop smirking at the back!  I like the sound of Baked Apples with Savory Pork Stuffing from Cosmo Cookie or this sweet dessert (baked apples stuffed with nuts and chopped fruit then smothered in caramel!)  from Backup.

3.  Homemade Apple Pie.  Yes, we all know how to make an apple pie ... don't we??!!  Well, just in case this is how it's done down on the farm in America.  Makes you want to reach for the ice cream before it's ready.

4.  Apple Muffin.  People don't seem to bake buns any more, they bake cupcakes or muffins.  (Aren't they just very big buns? Will we all end up waddling around with very big bums?)  Well Thyme to Garden Now has a lovely whole wheat version so a slight nod to healthy living.

5.  There is absolutely NO nod to healthy living in this so called Apple Salad recipe from SiggySpice!  Made with Snicker chocolate bars and caramel I dread to think how many calories it contains.

6.  Here's a proper Apple Salad from Marky-the-chef to tone things down again.

7.  A simple Toffee Apple came to mind next.  We used to make these for Bonfire Night.  Take care not to burn yourself when coating the apples though.  There are loads of toffee apple recipes out there but Mia Loves Pretty has made her's extra special.

8.  Apple Strudel has to be a favourite.  Delia can always be relied upon and this one sounds great but I discovered a beautiful Bavarian blog called Words and Herbs ("For all who appreciate the beauty of words, flowers and homecooking") and I think I'll give this one a go.

 9.  Now I've gone international I have to include Apple Curry taken from a blog called Dining with Phryne.

10.  Lastly .... you guessed it .... cider.  I am in fact teetotal so I would choose an apple juice such as the one found at Chaos in the Kitchen or A Sweetpea Chef but if you want a more alcoholic one add some rum ....

I'll end with a link to Robert Frost's poem After Apple PickingHis apples are achievements and desires from his younger days.  

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A Close Shave

The ivy had reached the roof tiles and was beginning to cover the chimney so it had to be chopped.

He had a neat business card and headed note paper.  He has carried out work in my mother-in-law's garden and she found him through another satisfied customer.  His quotation was acceptable and he started work on Monday.


Three men turned up: the Boss was going to erect a fence and prepare the base for the new greenhouse; the worker's job was to prune the ivy and play with the chain saw and the youngest one was paid to look bored and hold the ladder. 

All was going well.  By Monday afternoon we had half a fence; half a laurel bush and we could see the brick work round the front door.


Hadn't expected it to look quite THAT naked but I thought I can now repaint the woodwork.  That's when I realised he had chopped back the honeysuckle I had grown round the door!!  Gutted!  I just keep telling myself it will grow back!

Tuesday morning two turned up ... the Boss was taking his sick dog to the vet.  By lunch time previously shaded plants were basking in sunshine as the top few feet came off the rowan and lilac trees.  Everything seemed fine so we nipped out for lunch ... mistake!  The van had gone when we returned and the neighbours were waiting ...

Apparently the young lad had been rude; they had failed to move the van when someone had wanted to turn their car round and the garden waste had been left "all over" the lane. 

To be honest there was some mess ... slightly more than I would have liked but a LOT less than there could have been!  It would take hours to tidy up every twig after cutting back so many branches so some mess was only to be expected.    

Wednesday morning no-one turned up!  Andy phoned the Boss.  The dog had died.  He was too upset to work so they will be back next Tuesday.

The sight of this beautiful Amaryllis cheered me up.  I put the house plants outside over summer and this one decided to bloom now instead of waiting until Christmas when it usually flowers.

The raspberries have been moved up to the allotment.  The rhubarb, currants and gooseberries are up there as well but I'm keeping the strawberries at home until the fruit cage is built.

Saturday, 17 August 2013


We have a few changes planned for next week.  I have to dig up the vegetable patch and the soft fruit then dismantle the greenhouse (the cat won't be happy!).  We have a man coming to trim the tall trees and a larger greenhouse being delivered (perhaps she'll stop sulking once she's seen it).  The old greenhouse will move up to the allotment, as will the soft fruit.  Really looking forward to everything being sorted!

I've been making jam this week ... strawberry and raspberry and it won't be long before the plums are ready.  Quite a good crop this year.  The apples are weighing the tree down and there are a few pears on the young tree I planted two years ago.  Loads of lovely puddings and desserts for the future ... or for the freezer! Our eldest son is getting married next April so the diet has started already! 

I left teaching three years ago and discovered the joys of pottering.  I enjoyed my job and have some great memories.  I remember my last Sports Day ... a very warm, sunny day ...  as I passed a Year 8 boy who had just won a 200m race I said, "You look hot."  Quick as a flash he said, "Thank you!"   There's never a dull moment in a secondary school!  As September gets closer I should be all smug smiles but this year I've agreed to go back for a term!  I'm going to miss the lazy days. 


Friday, 2 August 2013

Golden Rod

Golden Rod reminds me of my childhood as my grandfather had planted it in his garden. It has the same effect on Sue Garrett as she recalls walking to her grandparents' house through a field where Golden Rod grew in wild profusion.  It is a beautiful plant but, as I have discovered, it can be rather invasive.  Janneke gets round the problem by using it as a cut flower with Crocosmia and Gaillardia - sounds lovely so I reckon I'll be following her advice.          

Bees love the flowers and Golden Rod honey is delicious.                                                                          

Parts of the plant are edible.  Golden Rod tea is used by herbalists to reduce inflammation and to aid recovery from kidney stones.  It is known to be a diuretic.

Historically it has been used on the skin to help heal wounds and American Indians chewed the leaves and roots to relieve sore throats and toothache.

Golden Rod leaves naturally contain rubber!  Thomas Edison carried out experiments to try to increase the amount so it could be used commercially.  A typical yield is 7% but Edison's plant gave a rubber yield of 12%.  When his friend Henry Ford gave Edison a present of a Model T Ford the wheels had been specially made from Golden Rod rubber!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

End of Month - July 2013

I spent the morning in the greenhouse because it's chucking it down outside.  Delphinium and hollyhock seedlings are potted on and the rose and carnation cuttings are cosy in their plastic bags.

Yesterday I collected seeds from poppies, violas, lupins and white foxgloves.  The wallflower pods are almost ready but Garden News gave me a free packet of those seeds anyway.  I have recently subscribed to Garden News as they are offering 52 weekly magazines for £52 ... a real bargain as they give away a free packet of seeds worth more than £1 every week, it's full of interesting articles on everything from flowers to vegetables and they always have loads of offers.  I get BBC Gardeners' World Magazine too (another offer ... 5 magazines for £5) but it's Garden News I look forward to receiving.

I found a place for my fossil paving slab ... a plain concrete slab used to be there so this one looks much better.  I went back to the stone merchant and bought another two large ones to improve this whole area and got a deal on ten remaining small ones (£30 instead of over £60).  I haven't used them yet but they will feature in my plans for the front garden when I get round to it!

Golden Rod is attracting the bees but I need to carry out some crowd control if it spreads any more.
Here are some more blooms to lift my spirts on this wet morning:

This nasturtium very kindly self seeded and is now creeping along the bottom of a border adding lots of lovely drops of colour.

Thanks to The Patient Gardener for hosting the End of Month meme.

Friday, 26 July 2013

MASSIVE Ladybird

 Earlier this month I was in a friend's garden when we heard jet engines overhead and looked up to see the Red Arrows passing directly over the top of us on their way to the Test Match a couple of miles away.  Yesterday, in my garden, a strange noise turned out to be a low flying microlight buzzing around like a huge fly.  Then today we had this over us:

Have you read 'Enduring Love' by Ian McEwan?  He can be pretty dark at times and this one begins with a man falling from a rope on a hot-air balloon.  Well, this is the Ladybird balloon of Ladybird Books fame and it passes over us quite regularly on warm Summer evenings.  It has never caused us any problems, unlike some others in the past:

When we first moved here the kids were 7 and 5 years old.  One evening the eldest came rushing in shouting about a balloon which was about to hit the roof.  Sure enough, once outside, we could see the panic on the pilot's face as he frantically ignited the gas to gain height.  Luckily he made it.  The episode wasn't over though as it became obvious he was going to land in the newly ploughed field opposite our house.  Our sons were both in the field excitedly watching the action.  Suddenly the pilot threw a rope out and shouted, "Catch it." 

Our eldest ran after the rope while I was screaming, "NOOOO, don't touch it!"

Thankfully he didn't catch it and the balloon bounced over the furrows in the field spilling its passengers out into the mud.  Strangely, I have never hankered after a balloon ride since!

Visions of a small boy drifting off into the air still haunt me. Stupid really as he grew up and became a fighter pilot for the Royal Navy ...

I've been collecting seeds, sowing seeds, taking cuttings and dead heading this week. Pottering! Love it!

I also love this Lucifer Crocosmia.  It's much taller than the clumps I have dotted around the place and would be perfect as a cut flower ... hope it produces LOTS of seeds for me this year!

Here's a link to a nursery in Cornwall that specialises in Crocosmia. I hadn't realised there were quite so many different varieties of this plant.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


We didn't choose this Buddleja - it chose us.  We all know it as the Butterfly Bush but apparently it was called the Bombsite Bush during the war years as it has an invasive nature and it sprang up on any waste ground.  In fact it is banned in some USA states because it is classified as a noxious weed!

Well, five years ago part of the hawthorne hedge was removed from the field side of our lane and this Buddleja was definitely NOT there then ... but I'm very glad it is here now.  It's right outside our window and gives hours of entertainment this time of year. 

In the half hour I spent watching Peacock butterflies were chasing the Small Tortoiseshells; Small Whites were dancing round and unsettling Large Whites; a Red Admiral (or Admirable as they used to be called) paid a brief visit while a Comma posed for ages in the sunshine.

The flowers not covered in butterflies were covered in bees.

This particular shrub is a Buddleja davidii.  It was named after Father Armand David (1826 - 1900), a missionary Catholic priest, zoologist and botanist who worked in China.  It was Armand David who first discovered the Giant Panda together with 200 other wild animals and 807 birds many of which had never been described in scientific journals before. He discovered 52 new species of Rhododendrons and 40 new Primulae.

If I had chosen to grow a Buddleja I would have planted a darker purple, a red one or a white one.
This shrub has grown to 15 feet in just four years and it has spread to about the same width so I'm glad it is on the lane and not in the garden!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Carnations .... Propagation Time

Last year I sent for some free carnations from Thompson & Morgan.  I potted them up and gradually placed them in the borders.  I only put one in the front garden but I'm wishing I had found space for a couple more as this one has really thrived.  Carol Klein recommends us to 'treat them mean' and she appears to be right.  This one is in relatively poor soil and it's the furthest away from the hosepipe.   It has produced over forty tall red flowers and there are still masses of buds ready to open. Some people would have picked the blooms to enjoy them inside but I'm always reluctant to do that as it would 'spoil' the garden!  Next year I will have an allotment cutting garden (hopefully!) so it shouldn't be an issue.  In the meantime I buy cut flowers.  This week I decided on carnations: the florist was charging £4; the supermarket wanted £3.50 and the market trader was asking £2 so he got the sale.
It was a bunch of long stemmed, pure white carnations that needed to be cut to fit into the vase.  In the past the trimmings have always gone into the composter ... what a waste!  As a child my mother taught me to snip the bottom of each stem just below one of the stem nodes then cut off the bottom 4 inches aiming for just above another stem node if possible.  She would dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting powder and stick it in a pot of moist compost up to the bottom of the second node.  (She did this immediately so she was sure they weren't planted upside down!)   Some people recommend covering the pot in a plastic bag but Mum just left it on the kitchen windowsill which was light but out of the direct glare of the sun.  She kept the soil damp and the roots developed within a few weeks.  She never had to buy her bunches of carnations! 

Am I turning into my Mum???!!! 

'Jazz' Rose

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


You can stop worrying about the bees .... they're all at my house!!

A few weeks ago a family of tree bees (Bombus hypnorum) moved into a disused bird box right outside our front door.  I hadn't realised how rare they were until today!  Apparently they only appeared in Britain in 2001 and have been moving up the country ever since.  They are incredibly active: a group of males are constantly flying around outside the nest waiting for the queen to "come up and see them"! You can hear them buzzing late into the night. I've just spent a few minutes submitting a record to BWARS (Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society).

Then a couple of days ago I went into the spare bedroom and heard a strange chewing sound coming from the loft.  Through the window I spotted a couple of small bees going under the house guttering: further inspection revealed a hole between two bricks.  No idea what kind they are. Dread to think how many there are up there living rent free ... and what ARE they chewing?!

Today I spotted holes in the leaves of one of my new shrubs.  Leaf-cutter bees!  These are solitary bees.  They carry the bits of leaf away to line cells in which they lay eggs.  This one is my own fault as I placed one of those insect boxes near the pond and sure enough someone has moved in!  The books tell me not to panic as they don't do any harm ... the shrub wouldn't agree!  "Just look at my leaves!!"

Anyway, on the whole I am rather chuffed at all these pollinators.  I'm obviously doing something right!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

We're having a heat wave?

According to the Met Office we can prepare for a BBQ weekend! 

Firstly, we need a BBQ!  Our last one rusted away to nothing as we left it outside (must take better care of the new one!).  Now do we buy a cheap one, an expensive gas one or build one from old bricks?  Always fancied the old brick idea and there are Youtube videos giving instructions but would we use it enough?  Where would we build it so it wasn't in the way or set fire to the house? Can we build it by Saturday?!  Think I've talked myself out of that one then. 

So, cheap or gas??  Do you get the same smokey flavour with a gas BBQ?  Do I like the smokey flavour?! Is charcoal cheaper than gas? Would I remember to look after a gas one?


Aldi have a dual burner for sale at £50.

But I prefer this one on Amazon at £99.99 reduced from £227.50

On the other hand I can get a basic charcoal BBQ for as little as £7.50 then spend the rest on food!

Why spend anything at all?  As a brownie I remember cutting an H shape out in the grass, folding the turf back, building a fire and toasting a sausage on a stick.  Once we were fed and the fire extinquished we put the turf back and went home.  Do they still do that kind of thing in the brownies?  I shudder to think how raw that sausage was!

Okay, next we need food and drink. 

I found a great little BBQ recipe book in a charity shop last year.  Lots of burgers and kebabs but it also has vegetarian and sea food sections. 

Here's Honey and Lime Prawn Kebabs with Salsa:
  • Using a non-metalic dish whisk 3 tbsps honey, 1 chopped red chilli, 2 tbsp olive oil, juice and zest from 2 limes, 1 crushed garlic clove, a small piece of grated ginger and 1 tbsp chopped coriander together then add 32 peeled prawns.  Toss well, cover and leave in the fridge for 3 hours.
  • To make the salsa chop up 2 tomatoes, dice 1 mango and 1 small onion, chop 1 small red chilli and mix them all up with the zest and juice from 1 lime and 2 tbsp coriander leaves (chopped).
  • Thread the prawns on skewers and BBQ for about 4 minutes.  Serve with rice and the salsa.

Delicious with homemade Elderflower Wine!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Saturday was a lovely day.  I spent a couple of hours alone on the allotment.  It was just before eleven o'clock when the Red Arrows flew over in formation!  They were circling round ready for their fly past over Nottingham for the Armed Forces Day Parade.  Nearby the gliding school was in full swing with planes taking off and landing from the Syerston airbase.  Later a Dakota came over as part of the East Bridgford Village fete.  It was just like being at Waddington Air Show!

Later we visited the village fete where I purchased this rather nice Astrantia Roma which complements this peony perfectly!

Sunday morning saw us out on the lane with the shovels and cement mending the pot holes. Last winter really took its toll on the unmade surface and we did a quick fix in Spring but we needed a good drying day to mend it properly.  Sunday fitted the bill.

Now when I say "we" I used the term quite loosely ... I made the tea and cut the hedge and swept up a bit ... there are advantages to being female.

There are thirteen houses on the lane: nine older properties then four new ones built behind our house.  The older residents don't tend to associate with the new ones! Things improved on Sunday.  Nothing like a joint venture to break the ice.  Because of the 'road works' people had to walk passed us and conversations began.  The cement has now dried and I hope there's firm foundations for more than just the lane.

Such a busy time of year!  I've filled two builder's rubble sacks with spent Forget-me-nots, weeds and garden waste since Sunday!  I've planted large pots of basil, coriander, thyme, mint, oregano, dill and chives near the kitchen door and tidied up the herb patch.  I finished the front pond make over and tidied up the front garden.  It needs lots of new climbers over the fences so I've taken cuttings from the honeysuckle and clematis. These are now sweating in plastic bags and hopefully putting down roots in the greenhouse.

Carol Klein has been collecting and sowing Polyanthus seeds so I followed her example ... then did the same with some bluebell seeds and some fritillaries.  It might work ... I have a pot of tiny Pineapple bulbs from last year's seeds so who knows!

Delphinium seedlings are growing nicely ready for the allotment.  I'll be collecting seeds from the ones flowering in the garden in a few weeks to plant in September.  The pale blue one is particularly attractive but I like the pink one too.  I might be very lucky and find the seed comes true!

The woodpigeons have been at it again and we have two noisy cooing creatures sitting on nests while at the front I was amazed to be shouted at by a tiny wren who was upset by my presence near the hedge!